Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Story and that Vibrant Otherness

By Shelly Frome

As it happens, one day the dramaturge at the Harford Stage Company advised me to key on provocative imagery when developing a script.  At the time, I didn’t quite get it. It’s only recently when I came to an impasse in my latest mystery novel that I thought back and began to understand what she meant.

My first recollection centered on a period when Tennessee Williams was developing a play called Sweet Bird of Youth at a theater in Coral Gables. After declaring “This is too pat. It just doesn’t light up!” he would return from Key West with a new version. In one instance, I started out as an extra in a tavern scene and the next thing I knew, I was alone at the bar facing Chance Wayne, a drifter just past his prime (a role featuring Paul Newman in the movie version). The only other customers were Chance and a local Southern belle seated directly in front of me. It seems Williams liked my laugh because it served as a glimmer of foreshadowing as my part kept expanding.  

Another example which came to mind took place in a lounge at the University of Florida where Edward Albee was confiding to a few of us graduate students about the creation of the Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton vehicle Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Every time he tried to script the inevitable breakup of a timid professor and his wayward wife at a small college, George and Martha dried up on him. But when he added the subtext of a fantasy child whose demise George could spring on Martha if she went too far, the specter of “the other” energized him and brought his tale to life.

I’m not suggesting I’ve come upon the secret. It’s just that I seem to agree with Stephen King it’s only when the characters and situation reach a point when unknown happenings occur, that I become fully engaged. That I have the sense I’m onto something and I’m dying to continue. But when I find myself enmeshed in anything bordering on the safe and predictable, I start to lose interest—e.g., Right, this is the one where the drifter-gunslinger rids the town of menacing elements and has to ride off because only decent folks belong in a community.  

If I had to pinpoint a factor that finally revitalized my latest, it was the introduction of the occult. It started off promisingly enough.  Miranda, a real estate agent in my adopted small town in the Blue Ridge, discovers that her client, a prominent church lady who listed the storied Raintree mansion, has suddenly taken up refuge at a nearby retirement center. Not only that, she’s been receiving anonymous e-mails suggesting that the wages of sin have become due. And here is what set things off again. Tarot cards began appearing under Cloris Raintree’s door. A denizen of the center, who resented Cloris’ standoffish, uppity manner, let on about a goodwill outing to Havana where something must have happened on the Malecon (the famous seawall). Cloris didn’t return with the rest of their party and, when she did reappear, she was drastically changed.

Other elements began proliferating that I previously knew nothing about, like astrology, the transit of Venus on a certain month, and the Southern Cross and its double meaning. All kinds of things came into play that affected who the sender might be and what was at stake. There were now sins of omission and commission, and the more it went on, poor Miranda found herself increasingly way over her head.

Out of the blue, I began devising a scene that took place in the dark of night when Miranda came upon the showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a local rural college. Here, students dressed in grotesque Halloween costumes were echoing the characters on screen, shouting dialogue they knew by heart like “We’re going insane!”

At that juncture, the advent of Halloween became yet another intriguing element.

I suppose it’s like realizing if you only had some flint, some combustible counterpoint you could rub against one another, the two could create enough friction so that who knows what’ll happen.
Shelly Frome is the film columnist for Southern Writers Magazine. He is also a member of Mystery Writers of America, a professor of dramatic arts emeritus at the University of Connecticut, a former professional actor, and a writer of crime novels and books on theater and film. His fiction includes Sun Dance for Andy HornLilac MoonTwilight of the Drifter and Tinseltown Riff.  Among his works of non-fiction are The Actors Studio and texts on the art and craft of screenwriting and writing for the stage. Murder Run, his latest crime novel, was just released.  He lives in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Dazzling Character Development Trick

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

Little kids just don't get magic.

That's something I heard a magician say a long time ago, and it makes perfect sense.  At that young age, children have yet to differentiate the natural world from the supernatural world.  Taking things at face value, the incongruity of a rabbit suddenly appearing from a hat is beyond their scope. They're more interested in the rabbit itself.

I got a first-hand taste of this years ago doing the one magic trick I know.  Actually, it's not even magic, and it's barely a trick.  Using the most elementary of skills, I can make it look like I've removed my thumb from one hand while it wiggles in the other.  I haven't fooled any adults with it, and older kids typically groan at its lameness.  But I'll never forget the reaction of a kindergartener who ran off screaming, terrified that I took off a finger.  Thank goodness I didn't saw someone in half.

As we know, children have a simpler view of the world than adults.  We wouldn't be likely to write a scene with a couple of seven-year-olds discussing quantum physics or amortization schedules. But we may be less aware of the distinctive degrees of development our adult characters can also express.

With each stage in life, people's wants and needs change. Behaviorists have given us some insights we can take advantage of if we really want to get into the heads of our characters. 

One particularly detailed guide is by Richard Barrett ("The Seven Stages of Psychological Development", found at   It's heady stuff but eye-opening and worth a look.  Here's an oversimplification:

Surviving, having needs met

Conforming, seeking love and acceptance

Respect and recognition, displaying looks or talent to become part of a group

25 TO 39 YEARS
Individuating, becoming oneself through expressing values and autonomy

40 TO 49 YEARS
Self-actualizing, becoming oneself through expressing gifts and talents

50 TO 59 YEARS
Integrating, collaborating with others and making a difference

Selfless serving, social justice, leaving a legacy

These won't apply to everyone  or every character  but could any of these underlying needs add an extra dimension to your protagonists and those they encounter?  Perhaps your 55-year-old shop owner who does sleuthing on the side is also the president of a civics organization  an ideal way to introduce an entire cast of red herrings.  

Knowing each character's stage of development is handy for giving them individuality. Researching their motivations in depth can also help you rely less on cliches and find layers to their personality that might surprise and dazzle you. 

Fill their heads with age-appropriate thoughts and you will avoid a failure to communicate like that of Billy Crystal's character in City Slickers, whose Career Day speech for his son's class became the victim of a midlife crisis.

Monday, June 26, 2017

How to Self-Edit Your Writing

By Cynthia Howerter

Self-editing is serious business—or at least it should be. This was drummed home to me during my sessions with a, thankfully, demanding writing coach. Horrified at the numerous errors she noted on my first submission, I scrutinized each mistake and realized I could have caught most of them had I taken the time to do a thorough self-edit. I see similar mistakes when I read or edit other writers’ unpublished work.

No matter what we write—blog posts, magazine articles, or books—our goal should be to produce the best writing we are capable of if we want to be taken seriously by readers. Self-editing forces me to thoroughly examine each word and punctuation mark, and in doing so, provides me with the opportunity to improve my skill. I work hard on writing and I work equally hard—if not harder—on self-editing because that’s the final step, the final polishing before putting my writing out there for all to see.

Once I’ve completed a piece, I read it out loud. Although this is time-consuming, the slow pace allows me to catch the majority of my mistakes. No matter how lengthy the article, I read it aloud, edit, and repeat the process as many times it takes until I’m satisfied.

Let me share the check-list of things I look for when I self-edit:  
1)     Are all words spelled and used correctly?
2)     Are all subject-verbs in agreement?
3)     Are any words used repetitively, especially small ones, when synonyms are available?
4)     Do sentences flow smoothly?
5)     Have I used a variety of simple and complex sentences?
6)     Does each sentence contribute to the subject of the article or the paragraph in which it appears?
7)     Has every punctuation mark been correctly used? Are any missing?
8)     Can readers (who won’t be able to ask me questions) understand what I’ve written, what points I’m trying to convey?

Whenever I have a writing deadline to meet, I make sure I schedule enough time to write and edit; hurrying is not my friend and never does me any favors. Once I finish the final self-edit, I make it a point to walk away from the article for several hours or even a day before giving it one last read-through. This final step ensures my satisfaction that I’ve done my best work.

How do you self-edit your work?
Do you schedule adequate time for editing?
What things do you look for when editing?
Award-winning author Cynthia Howerter writes historical fiction and contributes to two history websites. She and La-Tan Roland Murphy co-authored God’s Provisionin Tough Times, a non-fiction anthology. Visit Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter,, and

Friday, June 23, 2017

Memoir Writing: Seven Tips

By Tricia Pimental

Putting your past on paper is an intimate form of communication. Blog posts are personal, but memoir writing is another thing. Here’s what you need to know.

Choose your purpose.
Do you want to encourage, telling your story of overcoming abuse, or cancer? Or entertain, with tales of celebrity friends, assuming you have them. My intent with Rabbit Trail: How a Former Playboy Bunny Found Her Way was to instruct about the pitfalls of false religions. Have a clear idea before you start.

Focus on a theme.
One risk with memoir writing is getting distracted. You’ll include many vignettes in your work, and just as with any well-written fiction, they should make sense as a cohesive unit. With A Movable Marriage, however tangential some description might have seemed, it was always directed to my message: it is possible to not only adjust, but thrive, in changing circumstances.

Tell the truth.
This means being honest. It does not mean telling every event that happened in your life. A friend objected to my leaving out something she considered pertinent in one of my books, but I knew it didn’t move the plot forward. Remember, it’s your story. If people want to tell it differently, they can write your biography.

Deal with—not out—pain.
Here’s a two-parter. First, as you delve into the past, you will uncover memories that not only make you laugh, but cry. Expect it, embrace it, and then let it go. Second, don’t be like Hemingway—at least this way: when his Torrents of Spring was published, it was said, “all Montparnasse was talking of ‘six characters in search of an author—with a gun!’” Bitterness negatively colors what you want your readers to hear. Rise above it.

Use fiction elements.
You wouldn’t expect to read a novel without sensory description that draws you into the narrative. I’ve shared sights and smells of candy stores and pizzerias in Brooklyn and what it’s like to travel on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express. Take your readers to another time and place as you take them into your confidence.

Turn off your inner critic.
One of the benefits of participating in National Novel Writing Month is, in having to get 50,000 words on the page in 30 days, you must stop backspacing a dozen times in each sentence. (If this is an issue for you, I recommend you try NaNoWriMo.) Let your thoughts flow freely. You can excise in a rewrite, but censor as you go and you may miss an instrumental connecting idea.

Don’t rush.
Years ago, I had dinner with Judith Krantz. When I said writing a book seemed overwhelming, she replied, “Write a page a day, and in a year, you’ll have a book.” It didn’t take you three months to live your life, so don’t expect to write a memoir in three months. Savor the process.

Do it right and they’ll be thanking you for the memories.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Tricia Pimental’s first book was a memoir about her circuitous path to faith in Jesus Christ: Rabbit Trail: How a Former Playboy Bunny Found Her Way. That work was followed by a novel, Slippery Slopes. A second memoir, A Movable Marriage, was published in 2016. All three books have received Royal Palm Literary Awards in the annual competition sponsored by the Florida Writers Association. Other work has appeared in A Janela (the quarterly magazine of International Women in Portugal), anthologies compiled by the Florida Writers Association and the National League of American Pen Women, and elsewhere. She writes regularly for International Living Magazine and their affiliates since signing on in January 2017 as Portugal Correspondent. Tricia and her husband live near Lisbon with their Maltese who, like them, has learned Portuguese. A member of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and a former Toastmaster, she blogs at her website, Find her on Facebook at and follow her on Twitter: @Tricialafille.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Dreaming of Writing in an Italian Castle or Villa?

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director at Southern Writers Magazine

Have you ever had the dream of wanting to write in an Italian villa or castle? Maybe you want to run a Bed & Breakfast? The Italian government may have the perfect property to help you with your dream. All for FREE...sort of.

According to the website, Bored Panda, "The country’s State Property Agency expects anyone who gets a free castle (or any other of the 103 objects) to commit to restoring it...The goal is for private and public buildings which are no longer used to be transformed into facilities for tourists"
A CNN article gives additional information at this link. 

What a wonderful opportunity for a change of pace outside your comfort zone. Think of the possibilities for enhancing your writing spirit. You could be like Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun. You could write a best seller about your experience renovating your castle or villa and wind up watching a block buster movie about your Italian adventure. 

According to author Helena Attlee in her book,  The Land Where Lemons Grow, highlights Italy's shores. She provides a glimpse of Italy’s unique crops such as bergamot (and its place in the perfume and cosmetics industries.). Her book shows the vital role played by Calabria's unique Diamante citrons, Battle of Oranges in Ivrea, the gardens of Tuscany, and the story of the Mafia and Sicily's citrus groves.

Check out this map of property locations available. Can you imagine the experience of writing in Italy and creating a writing retreat with a free castle or villa, some sweat equity and the adventure of a lifetime? If this is something that interests you, this is the link to get you one step closer to owning your own Italian castle or villa.

Writing in Italy and turning your Italian castle into a writing retreat...are you ready for a real game-changer in your writing???

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Pilgrim’s Walk

By Warren A. Johnson

I wrote my first novel on a whim. Sort of like Jeremiah Johnson, who ignorantly walked into a bear hunt. “That'll be far enough, pilgrim!” If I’d had someone say that to me, I could’ve avoided the dangers of moving into a wilderness full of awe and wonder, which drew me close to death. Well, to the point a writer gets when he loses the trail and the path contains nothing but tangles, briars, and killers.

I blame my friend Randall, a fashion jewelry designer. He hired me to transport him to the Javits Convention Center in New York City. I listened as he talked about a script. After he completed his tale, he said, “We’re never going to make the movie. Someone ought to write the book.” This is where the pilgrim thing should have happened.

As I sat in front of the blank screen, I discovered I’m a Panster. I sent Randall chapters to identify if I’d captured the plot. He and his wife liked it. Then I heard about writers’ conferences and the money vacuum turned on. ACW rescued me, except they told me, “Kill the first seven chapters. That’s all backstory.” What?! After the shock wore off, I took three years to finish the tale. No publisher knocked down my door—probably because I may have told a decent story, but it wasn’t a novel.
Like Jeremiah, without proper background and study of the art form, I lacked industry survival skills. But, I did know about Max Perkins. He edited Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and the like. I needed a Max. Then one day the phone rang and the guy says, “For three hundred dollars I’ll publish your book.” Well, a book in the hand is better than a manuscript in the closet. I found out later it’s not worth much.

I retired three years ago and followed my writer/editor daughter to a conference where I found like-minded, peculiar souls called writers. I also found excellent mentors who never judged my lack, always encouraged learning, and have never said, “Hold it right there.”

So, people start a writing career for many reasons. Without an education in writing, there are pitfalls, but they can be overcome. It takes fortitude to do it this way. If you didn’t start out to be a writer, what made you decide to write the first book?
Warren A. Johnson writes magazine articles, devotions, and an occasional blog. He lives with his wife of forty-five years, Barbara, in the Catskill Mountains of NY. He fathered three kids and loves the ten child descendants they bring to the table. A public speaking venue, Haversack History, motorcycling and radio control airplanes use up some retirement time. His   Socail Media Links are: Blog Facebook Author Page Twitter  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Who Are Your Characters?

By Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief for Southern Writers Magazine 

Margaret Mitchell's novel, Gone with the Wind, released eighty-one years ago in 1936. The story was set in the American South against the backdrop of the American Civil War and Reconstruction era. The film tells the story of Scarlett O'Hara, the strong-willed daughter of a Georgia plantation owner, her romantic pursuit of Ashley Wilkes, who married his cousin, Melanie Hamilton, to her marriage to Rhett Butler.

To this day, we remember, Margaret Mitchell, the author and the characters she created. Rhett Butler (we swooned over him), Melanie Hamilton and Ashley Wilkes, but above all we remember the character, Scarlett O’Hara.

Margaret Mitchell wrote Scarlett’s character with so many flaws we couldn’t help but hate her at times . . . she was driven by her on demons, selfish, spoiled,  as well as a narcissist; yet she had an inward strength that caused us to root for her.

If you study her character, Scarlett was smart and had a force inside her that defied her being like the women of that era––the women of that day were supposed to take back seats, not go bull headed into matters that belonged in the men’s arena. Yet she did. Her morals played havoc with her mind; she wanted Ashley so bad . Yet, something drew her to Melanie. If you study the character and take all the flaws and all the qualities she had you will find a true protagonist.

One you can get angry with, hate and at the same time love and pull for her to win.

In contrast to Scarlett’s character you have Melanie. It has been said that her character is one of the strongest people in the entire story. She had a clear moral backbone, understanding heart and saw the good in people. Her character is shy and sweet and moves with a grace that warms the hearts of people around her. She is more interested in discussing literature than frilly dresses.

When we are creating our protagonist, we need to strip everything down to the core. Who is our character? What is the core of their desire? What is the conflict?

What drives our character? Is it duty? Is it a goal? That core desire needs to be something that is universal; something everyone can relate to.

At first we think the core desire of Scarlett is to get Ashley for herself. But that isn’t her core desire. That core desire was to save her beloved Tara! She was driven by that and left no stone unturned to achieve that goal. Through this she showed a bravery and courage that surpassed what we thought she had in her.

So, what about your protagonist? What is their core goal!